Undisputed regional heavyweights New Zealand will have their eyes firmly set on their seventh consecutive OFC U-19 Women’s titles when they embark on their 2019 campaign against a dangerous Samoa side in the opening match.
Meanwhile Tahiti will create a slice of Oceania women’s football history with their first ever appearance in this age group when they face American Samoa in the later kick-off.
With their current U-19 squad built around some of the key players involved in New Zealand’s history making third place finish at last year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Gemma Lewis’ side will begin the tournament as red-hot favourites.
Those nine bronze medal winners from Uruguay who are part of this team not only bring valuable international experience to the team, but also the taste and feeling for unparalleled success in the eleven-side form of the game for our region on the global stage.
Unsurprisingly the New Zealand coach is pleased with how her team is tracking ahead the tournament.
“We have been together for a little while and we had a camp back in April and July as well, but this team has been together throughout the U-17s and U-20 teams from the last cycle as well, so it’s a team that has been together for a while and well gelled and we are pretty happy with how it has come along and it has been going so far,” she explained.
Despite their awe-inspiring credentials, Lewis is adamant her side will not be complacent when they face Samoa in their opener.
“To be honest it’s more about us. We now Samoa will be hard, they will be organised and they will be defensively a challenge and they will be very physical so we are not underestimating them,” insisted the New Zealand coach.
“We are going into this tournament with a lot of focus on us and how we want to play, but we are definitely not taking them for granted,” she added.
Following a runners-up finish in front of their home crowd at the recent Pacific Games Women’s Football Tournament, there is plenty of optimism about the standard of the women’s game in Samoa.
Lanuola Mulipola’s U-19 team will be hoping to build on that momentum and the Samoa coach is confident the team has arrived in the Cook Islands in good shape
“So far so good, I’m happy with the preparations,” she said.
“The girls have been together and training since the Pacific Games as well as before that when they toured China in preparations for the Games,” added Mulipola.
The Samoans are under no illusion regarding the threat posed by New Zealand but their coach remains positive about her players approach and attitude.
“New Zealand is a really tough team but my girls are up for it and I trust my players and I know they will do as good as they can. Apart from using their footballing skills their fitness level will be crucial,” explained the Samoa coach.
Tahiti and American Samoa will face each other in the second match of the day with both sides knowing the importance of starting their campaign with a win.
It will be a historic occasion for the Tahitians who have never participated in this tournament before and coach Stéphanie Spielmann is relishing the opportunity.
“We are ready for this, we have started the work with our national women’s teams in Tahiti two years ago as part of our women’s football programme and this competition is a real test,” she said.
Over the past two years the Tahitian senior national side finished third behind Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia in their OFC Nations Cup 2018 group and third behind Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands in their Pacific Games Football Tournament pool.
Spielmann is hoping some of her players involved in previous tournaments and preparations have benefitted from the experience to translate it into results at the U-19 tournament.
“A lot of my girls from the U-19 team are made up of players from the Pacific Game. During the Pacific Games they’ve learned a gained valuable international experience,” she said.
Following a lot of hard work that went into the U-19 team’s preparations for this tournament, with three training sessions a week since April, Spielmann’s main focus remains fixed on her own players.
“We don’t know much about American Samoa so we are focusing mainly on our own team.
“But we have a very tough group with a beautiful team, New Zealand while the Samoan Federation is also doing a fantastic job regarding women’s football,” added the Tahiti coach.
Meanwhile, American Samoa will be hoping to produce some good performances in order to raise the profile of the women’s game back home, following a forgettable display by the senior team of the at the home of their cousins and bitter rivals Samoa during the Pacific Games.
Fresh from the United States, incoming Head Coach Steve Kettle is happy with what he had seen so far and confident his U-19 side will make the small island nation proud.
“We’ve had a really good two weeks of preparation and training since I’ve arrived in Pago in American Samoa,” he said.
The American Samoa coach believes results matter, but it’s even more important for his players to learn from the experience and keep developing for the future.
“Every day and with every game we want to improve and get better,” he explained.
“The girls are excited, they are ready and we are looking forward to some good games.
“I’m confident the girls will come out and do what they have done at training, they will work hard, they will fight for every ball and they will play together as a team and do their best,” added the coach.
New Zealand vs Samoa
Saturday 31 August local (Sunday 1 September NZ)
Rarotonga, Cook Islands